Art of Cannabis Extraction

The basics of the art of cannabis extraction

We love its abundant cannabinoids found in the cannabis trichomes. Cannabis products like all plant-based products can get old and lose its effects. Although we like to think the technical science is precision when it comes to extracting cannabinoids and terpenes, it’s also more of an “art” for extraction technicians who want to bring out the fullest expression of the plant.

In general, there are five stages in cannabis extraction:

  1. Grinding and extraction: flower is finely ground to all for better extraction.
  2. Winterization: plant fats and waxes are separated and removed from the extract.
  3. Filter: the extract is heated to activate THC.
  4. Distillation: pure cannabinoids are distillated, isolated, and captured.
  5. Packaging: cannabinoid distillate is infused into a variety of products for retail sale.

This article will focus on the first stage: grinding and extraction. Let’s talk about what goes into producing a quality cannabis extraction product.

Why Terpenes Matters

When it comes to defining quality for cannabis extraction, there’s a lot to say without ever scratching the surface. Now imagine smelling the terpenes. Scientists have discovered over 200 terpenes in cannabis alone. Still, only a few terpenes are most commonly found in cannabis, such as:

  • Limonene, also found in lemon peels, may relieve anxiety, and activity against acne bacteria.
  • Alpha-pinene, also found in pine trees, used as an anti-inflammatory and for opening up lung passages.
  • Beta-myrcene, also found in hops, used in relieving pain, relaxing muscles, and as a sedative.
  • Linalool, found in lavender, used in relieving pain and anxiety.
  • Beta-caryophyllene, found in black pepper and cinnamon, used as an antimalarial and for protecting stomach cells.

Until recently, the research focus in the cannabis world has been on cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD. But a funny thing happened when synthetic or isolated versions of THC and CBD were given to medical patients: they didn’t have the same medical effects as the “whole-plant” version of the chemical. Through the ‘entourage effect,’ it’s believed that terpenes enhance the experiences of the medical effect of THC and CBD cannabinoids.

Test the Plant First

Let’s never forget the quality of cannabis begins with a healthy plant. Genetic engineers and cannabis farmers are looking for ways to boost both cannabinoid and terpene amounts by increasing the density of trichomes.

To meet any quality standards, you will need to test for the following:

  • Cannabinoids
  • Pesticides
  • Microbials
  • Residual solvents
  • Moisture content and Water Activity
  • Mycotoxins
  • Foreign Material
  • Terpenes
  • Heavy Metals

Although no standards are common, Liquid Chromatography (LC) is the preferred method for checking cannabinoid profiles and potency. Our view on the definition of quality has to do with whether or not your cannabis product has a stable shelf-life. Cannabis products with accurate expiration dates are essential for providing consumer assurance that the product is high quality.

The Grinding Machine

Along with the quality of the cannabis plant, the expert skills of an extraction technician must know how to precisely calibrate the equipment, so as to manipulate conditions to create recipes as an “artist.”

Business operations are also about finding ways to do the most with the least — least waste, least cost, fasted way. Cannabis extraction packing machines do exactly that — shrink spaces.

Source: Extraction Magazine

The way cannabis becomes denser for extraction is by milling raw cannabis into smaller pieces after harvest with a cannabis milling machine. Biomass milling can start with a packing density of about 100–125 g/L while and increase to 225–250 g/L. This means the cannabis milling machine particles can nearly double before extraction. But be very careful here. While it may seem like a perfect idea to pack more biomass into extraction vessels, but grinding the biomass too finely will add solvents to the process.

The Extraction Machine

In cannabis extraction, a crucial step is to decide which solvent is the best solution for the recipe you’re using and the end result you’re hoping to achieve. Solvent, CO₂, and Dry Ice methods are three often used extraction method.

The dry ice method creates a solventless hash since no substances are used to chemically extract the cannabinoids from the plant. Making hash with dry ice is relatively easy, quick, and efficient in extracting resin from cannabis. However, dry ice can cause skin burns and a difficult method to scale when more production is needed.

Solvent extraction such as ethanol, alcohol, butane, and propane destroys some cannabinoids and plant materials. Butane extraction is dangerous due to its high flammability. Whereas ethanol extraction is safe and offers one of the best tasting and purest concentrates available.

Although each method has its own advantages, CO₂ best serves the most needs due to its ability to have its density tuned to target specific compounds. The incredible “tunability” of CO₂ extraction enables technicians to target specific compounds. Think of brewing beer, where each step in the process can create a new and interesting flavour, depending on ingredients and timing.

The more precisely you can control variables, the more options you have for different recipes and products. The value of using high-quality machinery to manage the extraction process cannot be overstated. CO₂ extraction machinery lets the technician control specifications to repeat the process again and again.

Standard Operating Procedures

Don’t forget about having well-written Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). The SOP is basically a document that shows the specific process and workflow, step by step, of an operation. Written in simple, plain-English is always best. Training and follow-up revisions of the steps are required to ensure production remains consistent and of high-quality.

SOPs help to ensure things are done the same way each time to limit the variables that produce unexpected outcomes. Put simply, you can’t scale if you don’t have SOPs to show how you keep consistency. There you have it, the basics of extraction to ensure better shelf-life stability.

For more cannabis business content, also read:

Starting an Industrial-scale Cannabis Operation

Challenges in the Cannabis Supply Chain

Milton Wani lives in Montreal and has worked in studying medical cannabis and the business side of the industry.

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